Rohingya protest for 'justice' on crackdown anniversary

Nick Perry | Agence France-Presse | Cox's Bazar

Jakarta, posted: Sat, August 25, 2018 | 01:34 pm

In this file photo taken on October 19, 2017 Rohingya refugees who were stranded walk near the no man's land area between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Palongkhali area next to Ukhia. Hundreds of desperate Rohingya Muslims still pour over the Myanmar border into Bangladesh camps every week, six months into the refugee crisis.(AFP/Munir Uz Zaman)

Thousands of Rohingya refugees staged protests for "justice" Saturday on the first anniversary of a Myanmar military crackdown that forced them to flee to camps in Bangladesh.

About 700,000 of the Muslim minority poured across the border after attacks by the Myanmar military and Buddhist groups that the United Nations has likened to ethnic cleansing.

Thousands held peaceful marches and attended rallies chanting "We want justice from the UN." At the Kutupalong camp, a giant banner proclaimed: "Never Again: Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day. 25 August, 2018."

Some wore bandanas emblazoned with the slogan "Save Rohingya" while others waved flags.

More marches and gatherings were planned across what has become the world's biggest refugee camp, activists told AFP.

Rohingya militants staged attacks on Myanmar police posts on August 25 last year, sparking a bloody crackdown in Rakhine state. Nearly 7,000 Rohingya were killed in the first month alone, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). 

Refugees fled the region, arriving in Bangladesh on foot or in flimsy boats. Many brought horrific stories of rape, torture and villages burned to the ground.

Myanmar authorities have insisted their forces only targeted insurgents. They have made an agreement with Bangladesh to repatriate refugees but only a handful have gone back. 

Rohingya leaders insist the exiles will not return home unless their safety is guaranteed.

Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week said it was up to Bangladesh "to decide how quickly" repatriation of the refugees can be accomplished and insisted the "terrorist threat" posed by Rohingya militants remains "real and present".

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which has been blamed for attacks in Myanmar, issued an anniversary statement in which it condemned Myanmar's "terrorist government and genocidal military".

Mohammad Hossain, a 40-year-old protester at Kutupalong, said: "We are here remember to August 25. We want justice. 

"We want them (Myanmar) to recognise us as Rohingya. We are very sad because we are not in our native land."

The Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship decades ago by Myanmar and have been hunted from the country in successive convulsions of violence. About 300,000 were already in camps in the camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district and the latest arrivals pushed numbers to one million.

Abdul Malek, a 27-year-old refugee who fled an attack on his village last year, said the plight of the Rohingya was far from over.

"This one year is just the beginning of many more to follow," he told AFP.

The Rohingya and aid agencies are most worried about the uncertain future of the refugees, who are stateless and seemingly unwanted in Bangladesh while conditions in their Rakhine homeland remain dangerous.

Access to healthcare and freedom of movement remain out of reach for the Rohingya left in Rakhine.

And the Rohingya exodus from western Myanmar continues today, with refugees still trickling over the border throughout this year.

The UN and international rights groups say conditions are not ready for their return.

"It may be decades until they can safely return to Myanmar, if ever," said MSF head of mission in Bangladesh Pavlo Kolovos in a statement.

Calls have mounted for Myanmar's military to be held responsible for the campaign, with security forces accused of torture, rape and murder.

The US has sanctioned two army brigades and several commanders who oversaw the expulsion.

There have been calls for an International Criminal Court inquiry but Myanmar has bristled at international criticism.

Humanitarian agencies spearheading the relief effort in Bangladesh say just one third of the roughly $1 billion needed for the refugees until March has been raised.

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Rohingya Rohingya-Muslims protest Myanmar